Sexual Violence in Tigray: Another War Waged on Women and Girls?

Special report by Dr Romina Istratii – OCP News Service – 24/01/2020

Sexual Violence in Tigray: Another War Waged on the “Bodies” of Women and Girls?

Global: Reports about sexual violence being used in the military offensive in the Tigray region have been emerging on Twitter and other social media for some time now. However, the issue did not receive systematic attention until recently.

On Thursday, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-general on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms Pramila Patten, made an official statement about disturbing reports of rape in Tigray, including in the capital Mekelle, which the federal troops have gained control of.

The UN Special Representative opened her statement by remarking:
“I am greatly concerned by serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, including a high number of alleged rapes in the capital, Mekelle. There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence. Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centres have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict. In addition, there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps.”

Following this official statement, a VOA article was published on Friday, providing additional testimonials that reinforce these reports.

The article mentioned the case of a 25-year old coffee seller who was raped by a soldier wearing an Ethiopian federal army uniform. It also cited a recent meeting in Mekelle that was broadcasted, during which a soldier asked why women were being raped in Mekelle too, where federal police and local police were operating. Doctors who reported having treated numerous victims of rape were also cited. In December of last year, a Guardian article cited a woman who fled Tigray with her son after hearing of federal militias raping Tigrayan women on the basis of their ethnicity.

Such reports are disconcerting because they suggest that sexual violence could be used as a war tactic by combatants. The Rwanda genocide, two civil wars in Liberia, a decade-long civil war in Papua New Guinea, the Bosnian war -to name a few examples – were all marked by the extensive raping of women and girls (and in numerous cases of boys and men), reflecting the almost inevitable weaponization of rape in war-time.

While the extent of sexual violence in Tigray and camps hosting Tigrayan and Eritrean refugees needs to be established thoroughly, reports about rape should not be ignored and must be addressed solemnly. Those committing rapes need to be brought to exemplary justice to avoid a situation of future impunity and to communicate to all militant elements in Tigray that sexual violence will not be tolerated.

Sexual violence in war-time is anticipated to affect the individual mentally, physically and materially, and to alter personal relationships with others, subsequently affecting entire communities. The detrimental and intergenerational effects of war-time sexual violence most often co-exist and amplify structural, communal and domestic forms of violence. Therefore, responses to sexual violence in Tigray and refugee camps must consider these linkages and integrate prevention mechanisms for multiple forms of violence proactively.

Dr Romina Istratii is based at SOAS University, UK London and currently leads a research and innovation project in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the UK that aims to address domestic violence in religious communities.

Special report by Dr Romina Istratii


On a different note, a number of media outlets like Telegraph, Financial Times, The Asian Herald, The Week, Christian post, Atlanta Blackstar, Catholic News Agency, Church Times, In-Depth News, Catholic World Report, Christian today, DOHI News, ACNUK, UCA News, CBN, Christian headlines have published reports on the alleged massacre of more than 700 people at the Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, Tigray, Ethiopia. The Ministry of foreign affairs of the Polish government has also categorically condemned the perpetrators behind the killing.